“Mindfulness supports the health and happiness of employees and has been shown to increase productivity to the value of nearly €3000 a year (per person)”
In 2015, 17% of the Irish workforce reported that they had experienced stress in their job, an 8% increase since 2010. Furthermore, there were twice as many people reporting more than one ‘stress reaction’ in work during the same period.
While I can’t find today’s figures, two things strike me about this:
1. If it went up 8% in five years, between 2010-2015, how high is that number now?
2. What is the impact of this on individuals – and organisations – and how can we do better?
While Ireland was below the average of 19% – reporting workplace stress – surely we can all admit that any figure is too high. How can an organisation function if their workforce regularly feel under pressure?
And it’s no wonder people are feeling stressed when it’s estimated that you’ll be interrupted every 11 minutes in the workplace. With an increase in distractions – adverts, mobile phones, social media, WhatsApp messages etc – our minds rarely get room to breathe.
In order to manage the feelings we develop, we need to pay attention to the way we feel. How often has someone asked how you are and you reply with a standard ‘Yeah, not bad thanks’ or your own personal go-to answer? Even if you’re not okay.
We all undergo stressful periods in our work lives, but when this moves from occasional to everyday, changes need to be made. It’s vital that we break down perceptions and stigma of mental health and start emphasising how important it is to say if you’re struggling.
And the impact of engaging a positive mindfulness agenda at work is huge. Employers who promote this see healthier and happier employees along with an increase in productivity – estimated at 1 hour a week – worth nearly €3000 a year per team member to the business.
Clearly there are benefits everyone can enjoy, but where do you start?
What is mindfulness?
To start, it probably helps to understand the subject at hand. Mindfulness is defined as:
1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
2. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
By promoting greater awareness of your mind, body and surroundings, you can isolate what’s important, paying greater attention to honing your focus on these, and reduce the impact of distractions that negatively impact your mental wellbeing.
Promoting mindfulness in the workplace
We’re seeing an increasing trend from large, forward-thinking organisations who are investing in ways that promote positive approaches to dealing with stress or individuals who are affected by their mental health.
There’s been an anecdotal increase in the number of stories being posted and shared on social media about managers who have given staff time off under the guise of ‘mental health days’. There is both a growing awareness – and need – for them. So what else can you do?
The Forbes Coaches Council wrote an article last year on ’14 Simple Steps To Encourage Mindfulness In Your Workplace’. Here are my top five choices for promoting mindfulness practices in your working environment:
1. Lead by example – As a Line Manager, or Direct Report, you should demonstrate awareness and acceptance of mental health issues, including your own. This might mean seeking support for staff, who come to you directly, or arranging external training sessions.
2. Take a break – How often do you get to work, sit at your desk, and stay there all day, barring toilet breaks or the tea/coffee round? Find time to get out of your work environment and go somewhere different. Head to the park, read a book, escape the monotony.
3. Learn to breathe – Okay, specifically, it’s about learning to focus on your breathing. Structured techniques reduce stress. One that I learned was the four-five-six technique. Breathe in for four seconds, hold for five, exhale for six, and repeat for five minutes.
4. Space to think – Instead of back-to-back meetings, give yourself 15-30 minutes between each one. This means that any action points you leave with can be addressed right away and you won’t get to the end of the day wondering who asked you to do what.
5. Ask for feedback – As a leader, you need to show your staff that their opinion matters. You might not know what they do, or how it contributes to overall performance, but if they can do something in a better, efficient, and less-stressful way, you need to investigate this.
To see the full list included in the article, click here.
Boosting productivity through mindfulness
According to leading expert Matt Tenney – author of The Mindfulness Edge – there are four clear ways that mindfulness boosts productivity:
1. Produce better work – By training our brains to focus on the important – and relevant – things, we will produce work to a higher standard, finish tasks quicker and more accurately.
2. Reduce absenteeism – A benefit to promoting mindfulness is greater resilience to stress-based absenteeism and improved immune-system functionality.
3. Improve decision making – The removal of an emotive state that could lead you to make poor decisions is reduced, allowing you to think clearly and make better judgements.
4. Understand what’s important – Greater clarity affords greater productivity. This means not getting involved with projects of little or no relevance and focusing on what’s vital.
With Mental Health Awareness Week taking place from the 13th – 19th May, it’s easy to say that you’ll run an event or a workshop then. In reality, mental health isn’t something you choose to dip in and out of once every 52 weeks.
Mindfulness should be an everyday part of your organisation like checking your emails, answering the phone or arranging meetings. By promoting it daily, you can show your staff that they are in control and that they have ways to ask for help and support.
As an employer you cannot force mindfulness but you can create a culture that encourages and promotes it as a way of working. You have both a vested-interest and duty of care for your employees, show them that they matter.
Equally, if you’re a freelancer, or self-employed, it doesn’t mean you’re immune from work-based stress. Chances are, it’s a higher risk. It’s important to form positive habits as part of your working routine that give you time to decompress.
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